With one day of the annual NAMA Show over and done, I am convinced that we are at a crucial point in the industry. The old vending business model of delivery vehicles described as rolling warehouses, paper and pencil product inventory and the "gut-instinct" way of selecting new products to put in a vending machine is no longer the norm. The operators attending the show are merging their strong customer-focused attributes, sales and service, with technology that delivers a better user experience and drives up profitability.
More technology education
Technology is a large part of the conversation at this year's trade show. Arguably, 10 out of the 15 education sessions were about some form of technology, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) that the Coca-Cola company helped develop that better analyses vending beverage sales to a thorough overview of the use and safety of mobile payments. It was great information and operators were listening, by the dozens. The technology sessions I attended were nearly full, with many standing in the back listening. These attendees are no longer the early adopters, but the mainstream operators that understand the benefit, are dedicated to understanding more about it and want to better use technology in their businesses.
One of the most pervasive ideas in the technology discussion was mobile. It wasn't just mobile wallets, although that is gaining traction. During the Next Gen Technology panel, the multigenerational audience was asked if they had ever paid for a product or service using a mobile device. Roughly three quarters of the room raised their hand, illustrating that it is not just Millennials driving mobile payments. It is also not just for vending machines and kiosk-less micro markets. It is being used by some honor box operators as a convenient way for employees to pay for snacks. During the Next Gen Technology session, Juan Jorquera, founder and CRO of Vagabond Vending shared that when an operator he knows added a mobile payment option to one of his honor box accounts, he saw a lift in revenue. It was the only change he had made.
The mobile discussion was more than payments, however. The prevalence of mobile devices among consumers is altering the way vending operators communicate with them. Employees want the ability to text in a service issue, rather than call. Consumers want seamless vending machine or micro markets loyalty and rewards programs on their phones.
Mobile devices are also being used on the operations side. The technology already exists to inventory products with a mobile phone or tablet, and even that is evolving. At this year's show terms such as augmented reality or artificial intelligence are being added to that mobile inventory solution.
Time to change
This industry, once very mechanical, is becoming more technological. It's changing. Heidi Chico, NAMA Chair and President of the Wittern Group, commented during the opening session that her message to the industry is one of "innovation and need for change." She spoke about her own equipment business and that her grandfather could not have foreseen the unattended solutions the company currently provides – a prime example of successful innovation and change. Carla Balakgie, CEO of NAMA called this a watershed moment, both in history and in the industry. Part of that is technology and how it's changing the status quo.
Staying competitive in business has always meant evolving. New products stimulate sales. New services are profitable solutions. Answering the call for technology is the next evolution the industry faces. It's coming both from internal and external drivers, but luckily there are opportunities to learn about it from experts during events like the NAMA Show. See you there today.